environment

‘Arrogant and secretive’ withholding of Māui review

A completed review into the accuracy of economic modelling circulated in the Threat Management Plan for Māui and Hector’s dolphins has been withheld from the public until ministers consider it. NGOs want it released now.

Environmental NGOs have banded together to urge the Government to publicly release a review into whether the economic impact of protecting Māui and Hector’s dolphins from fishing nets was calculated correctly.

At least 28 NGOs have signed a letter to Fisheries Minister Stuart Nash calling for the review to be released and expressing their ongoing concern with the process of creating the Māui and Hector's dolphin Threat Management Plan. The process is being run by the Ministry for Primary Industries' fisheries arm, Fisheries New Zealand, along with the Department of Conservation.

Only 63 Māui dolphins remain. The proposed Threat Management Plan looks at options to bring human-induced deaths, such as dolphins getting caught in fishing nets, down to as close to zero as possible.

Options discussed in the proposed plan include shutting areas to trawling and set net fishing. The plan provided estimates of the economic impact of closing areas, and public submissions were sought on four different levels of protection.

The current unease is the latest in ongoing issues around modelling contained in proposed plan. Scientists have challenged the claim cat poo poses a greater threat to dolphins than fishing and NGOs have struggled to get economic data used in calculations. 

A peer review conducted by Market Economics on behalf of World Animal Protection looked at the methodology used to come up with estimated costs of shutting areas to nets. It found the costs of closing fishing areas were overstated by up to 10 times. 

Following this, the Government commissioned NZIER to complete a review of methodology. This has been completed but not released. 

If the modelling in the proposed plan is not correct then all public submissions made to the plan will have been based on incorrect information.

The Ministry of Primary Industries said the review would be released in “due course” but has not specified a date. Submissions to the plan are now closed.

A letter written by World Animal Protection and signed by 27 environmental NGOs was sent to Fisheries Minister Stuart Nash last week requesting the review findings be released and asking further submissions to the plan be allowed if warranted.

Without transparency, “obscure and unsupported methodologies” run the risk of the Threat Management Plan (TMP) facing judicial review, says the letter.

World Animal Protection’s Christine Rose said queries made to Fisheries New Zealand have gone unanswered. 

“Government departments have taken an arrogant and imperious approach to the TMP process, with Fisheries NZ simply refusing to respond to us. This all undermines the TMP itself, and public and international confidence in it.”

This isn’t the first time in the process economic information has been hard to get hold of.

While submissions to the plan were open, Rose and other NGOs requested the Ministry of Primary Industries share the data used to estimate fishing industry losses that would be incurred by closing areas. 

Greenpeace’s oceans campaigner Jessica Desmond said the organisation made repeated requests for data. 

“MPI refused to share this information, only sharing an outdated report once the consultation process had already finished. So the question really is - what do they have to hide?”

She said the lingering questions over the economic modelling threw any decisions made into question, and were a subversion of the process.

“Government departments don’t get to hide information that is all of our concern because of industry interests.”

Missing from the proposed plan was the risk and cost of a seafood ban from the United States if the petition lodged by Sea Shepherd was successful.

The United States Marine Mammal Protection Act means seafood from countries that don’t prevent bycatch of marine mammals in line with US standards is banned from being imported into the country.

This would affect up to $2 million worth of product caught in the Māui habitat normally destined for US markets. However, up to $200 million's worth of product could be at risk unless a traceability system was set up to prove where seafood was caught. 

The day after the plan was released the petition was rejected. However Sea Shepherd may appeal the decision.

World Animal Protection’s Rose said this shows the global interest in New Zealand’s conservation efforts. 

“The TMP will be a test of New Zealand’s serious intent to truly save Māui and Hector’s dolphins. Future generations of the world will judge this Government on its actions. So far, the use of less-than-robust science and economics, and arrogant and secretive withholding of information does not bode well.”

The NGO is holding a picnic on Parliament’s lawn tomorrow to raise awareness. MPs have been invited but Rose, who is frustrated MPs aren’t listening to concerns around the plan’s process, said only a few have indicated they will attend - none from Labour.

Rose has not had a response from Nash to the letter or picnic invitation. 

Timeline:

February 6: Sea Shepherd petitions US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to ban snapper and seafood caught in the area.

May: Briefing regarding the Sea Shepherd petition sent to Fisheries Minister Stuart Nash and Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage, Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters, Trade and Export Growth Minister David Parker, and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

June 17: A proposed Threat Management Plan is released.

June 18: US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration rejects Sea Shepherd’s petition for a ban.

June 18: Scientists question the proposal's claim cat faeces pose a bigger threat to dolphins than commercial fishing.

July 9: Questions raised over the calculation of economic impact of set-net and trawl bans in dolphin habitat.

August 19: Submissions to the threat management plan close.

August 20: Fishing interests Sanford and Moana New Zealand, with WWF-New Zealand, propose an “option five”. This suggests an observation and move-on approach if dolphins are seen.

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